Clifton: Ex-high school principal freed after 35 years in prison

Joe Bryan (far right) in court. (Photo by Pete Sousa/file)
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CLIFTON, Texas (KWTX) Former Clifton High School Principal Joe D. Bryan walked out of a Texas state prison Tuesday 35 years after he was convicted of his wife’s murder, which his lawyer says he did not commit.

Bryan, 78, frail and in declining health, was granted parole on Mar. 20.

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted earlier this month to approve his release after he and his lawyers made their eighth attempt.

The state board denied him seven times citing the brutal nature of the 1985 shooting death of his wife, Mickey.

Board members concluded at each juncture that Bryan posed “a continuing threat to public safety.”

A 220th Judicial District jury in 1985 and again in a 1989 retrial, convicted Bryan of the Oct. 14, 1985 shooting death of Mickey Bryan, 35,a Clifton ISD teacher, and set his punishment at 99 years.

Throughout the past 35 years, Bryan has maintained his innocence, but in spite of court hearings and recantation of original trial testimony, the state's highest court has several times denied any relief.

In January, Bryan's lost a bid for release after the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals again rejected his motion for habeas corpus.

In a court hearing in Comanche in 2018, the Texas Forensic Science Commission said evidence used to convict Bryan in 1985 was "absolutely unreliable."

Having studied the Bryan case for more than a year, the commission announced the science used to convict him was "junk science" and was totally unreliable.

A surprising analysis of the blood spatter revealed that what prosecutors in 1985 said was proof Bryan held his flashlight in one hand and his .357 magnum in the other when he shot his wife, may not have been blood, at all.

Bryan’s attorney, Waco lawyer Walter “Skip” Reaves, in a story on Bryan's appeal published June 12, 2018, said "without doubt, there is less evidence in this case than any other one I've dealt with over 35 years and on a scale of 1-to-10 the evidence presented in Bryan's trials was a 1, seriously lacking."